Earlier this year, I featured as a panel member for a Real Business of Wine webinar titled ‘Getting the Horn’. Throughout the webinar, the panel explored biodynamics with Monty Waldin, the world’s leading expert on biodynamic wine. Whilst several of my peers did challenge the notion of biodynamics, I was hesitant to do so, feeling the forum was not the most appropriate of places in which to voice my somewhat fierce opposition to Steiner and his quackery. Shortly after the webinar I released an Instagram video briefly summarising my position, admittedly it wasn’t terribly succinct, was a little provocative and did little to convince others as to why they should take a more active position against aspects of biodynamics. Here I hope to lay out my position more clearly, explaining why I so vehemently oppose individuals who profiteer from pseudoscience.
In order to make wine, grapes must undergo alcoholic fermentation. In the case of red wine, the vessel used for fermentation, dependent upon winemaker preference, will also contain the skins, seeds and stems. During fermentation, yeast produce carbon dioxide, this carbon dioxide causes grape solids to rise creating what is referred to as a cap. The cap can present a number of risks, a combination of acetic bacteria, the warmth of fermentation and oxygen could easily convert a vat to vinegar. For this reason, winemakers must manage the cap. Cap management also forms part of the winemakers desired stylistic preference. Tannins, anthocyanins and flavour compounds, all essential to a wines character, are found in large quantities in grape skins and so varying methods of cap management will greatly alter a finished wine. Fail at cap management, and you may well have failed the wine.
1981 was a fairly average year in Champagne. Harvest was small and the wines were somewhat thin and austere. Following World War II, both the popularity and sales of Champagne had once again surged. Despite this, the region had not seen a new house for over 100 years. Bruno Paillard had been working as a broker since 1975, his lineage of brokers and growers in the villages of Bouzy and Verzenay dating back to 1704. Champagne run thick in Bruno’s blood and during his time as a broker he acquired a deep and extensive knowledge. At just 27 years old, without a penny to his name, Bruno sold his vintage Jaguar for 50,000 francs to satisfy his burning desire. A desire to create a different Champagne. Almost 40 years later, he and his daughter Alice direct one of the most prestigious houses in Champagne. I spoke with Alice about beginnings, relationships, challenges and the future.
In years gone by Piedmontese farmers could expect at best, two great vintages in a decade. The years spanning 1940 to late 1970 were challenging. But the climate is changing, Silvia Altare tells me the region faces more sudden, dramatic weather and a general shift toward less and less normality. Despite frost in late April 2017, Barolo saw the hottest summer of the last 150 years. Hail storms, having typically been common in summer, now crop up in Spring and Fall. Despite this, the vigneron remain both positive and optimistic. The Langhe people are resilient, over the years much has changed, now more than ever they demonstrate their hardy nature. With the help of some of the regions most lauded producers, I explore viticulture in Piedmont, discovering how they are working with the vine through a changing climate.
Besides that which is essential for photosynthesis, namely carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, grapevines also require a range of nutrients in order to grow, survive and prosper. These nutrients are split into two groups depending on scale of requirement, macro and micronutrient, the former being those required in larger amounts. Nitrogen is the most abundant soil‐derived macronutrient in the grapevine. It plays a major role in all processes and a significant amount of nitrogen is essential for normal vine growth. In viticulture a nitrogen deficiency may affect key metabolic functions and retard shoot development and bunch formation. In winemaking a shortage of yeast assimilable nitrogen can result in problematic fermentations. In this article I will explore nitrogen in viticulture from soil to bottle.
Besides that which is essential for photosynthesis, namely carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight, grapevines also require a range of nutrients in order to grow, survive and prosper. These nutrients are split into two groups depending on scale of requirement, macro and micronutrient, the former being those required in larger amounts. Potassium is the second most abundant mineral nutrient in plants and has a number of roles. It is associated with the movement of water, nutrients and carbohydrates whilst also helping to regulate stomata and supporting enzyme activation. A deficiency can reduce yields, fruit quality and increase susceptibility to disease. Too much can cause a finished wine to lose acidity. In this article I will explore potassium in viticulture from soil to bottle.
In 1894, Domizio Cavazza created Barbaresco’s first cooperative, the Cantine Sociali. Cavazza recognised that Nebbiolo from Barbaresco differed from Barolo, and for the first time, acknowledged this on the label. In 1920, fascist rule forced the Cantine Sociali to close, it wasn’t until 1958 that a cooperative reemerged in Barbaresco; the Produttori del Barbaresco. Today, in a good vintage, the Produttori (consisting of 54 growers and 250 acres of vineyards) bottles nine single vineyard wines, a Barbaresco DOCG, and a Langhe Nebbiolo DOC. My appreciation for the Produttori, and Piedmont as a region, came to be in 2015. I received as a gift, a bottle of 2008 Produttori del Barbaresco Pora: the wine was ethereal, seductive and poised. Last year I visited the Produttori and in this article get to grips with what makes this cooperative the best in the world.
For over 2000 years oak has been a fundamental component in the production, maturation and transport of wine. First used by merchants as a vessel for transporting finished wine, its capacity to transform the liquid within was arguably a serendipitous byproduct of its initial purely practical use. Decisions associated with the preparation and use of oak in winemaking are arguably some of the most influential in defining style, be that regional, site-specific or that of an individual vigneron. Often under-appreciated, the journey of the oak barrel from forest to cellar reveals an intricate and complex story, one of nature, craft and science.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, or in this case, adaptation. The wine industry has for one reason or another been sluggish in embracing and adopting the digital revolution of the past decade. Whether it be a large multinational or small family-run business, the way in which businesses engage with their captive and potential audience has elsewhere evolved. I don’t want to come across as gloomy, this article is one of optimism and celebration. The now global pandemic has devastated the wine industry, turning many businesses on their heads overnight. However, opposed to accepting defeat, many have shown overwhelming resolve, transforming their strategy almost instantaneously. What has changed and what does wine’s digital revolution mean for the industry going forward?
Winemaking is a labour of love. For those on the ground, romantic notions of sniffing barrels and stomping grapes are a stark contrast to their reality. Vintage by Villa Maria is a wine documentary with a difference. The film explores the trials and tribulations of a single harvest from the perspective of Villa Maria’s people. Filmed across 40 days it explores their motivations, passions and the unique challenges they face. In a style attractive to wine lovers and regular folk, Vintage balances new-found admiration with excitement, education and sheer grit.
Selecting a date upon which to begin harvest is arguably the most pressing, influential and troublesome decision required of any vigneron during the annual growing cycle. There is the romantic notion that growers arrive at this decision as a result of intuitive tasting of selected grapes picked randomly from a particular plot or row. Whilst intuition often proves invaluable, particularly in tough vintages, times are changing and the role of technology in tracking optimum grape ripeness is proving increasingly valuable. In no region are they pursuing optimum ripeness quite as comprehensively than in Champagne. I got to grips with just how this pursuit is evolving with Frédéric Panaïotis, Chef de Cave at Ruinart.